While it has taken decades to play out, the Internet has brought collapse across industries and has fundamentally changed everything about how the world used to work. With the massive shift away from centralized control over things and toward decentralization, we need to be more honest with ourselves about the implications.
More than 25 years after the large-scale introduction of the Internet, most of us are still stuck in mental models of how the world was before. On some level, we still believe there is some value, prestige, or even competence to be found in what is clearly becoming an obsolete world order.
Let’s get real. Today, do music labels have any power to make a new artist successful? Are book publishers capable of or interested in making a new author famous? Does anyone even read the newspapers and magazines? Does advertising work?
Most of the documentaries on Netflix, for example, are stories that happened during the previous world order. The fictional movies we watch also reference these obsolete ideas and values. The people who we admire and want to be like—they became successful and famous under an entirely different system. Their lessons are no longer relevant. But because there are so few fresh voices getting through, this is what we are left with and the obsolete mental models are perpetuated.
The result is that we are constantly failing. Now there is an entire industry selling us books and motivational content promising that we can succeed—that we can somehow become like our heroes, even though the conventional definition of success is no longer attainable. The world is entirely different from how it was when our heroes succeeded. The problem is not our lack of talent and not our lack of ability to innovate. The problem is that we are defining success in a way that is now impossible to achieve.
Companies and creative people continue to invest in PR and advertising because we still believe that 1) people can be persuaded by such mediums, and 2) this is the way to reach a huge audience. Anyone who has tried this knows that, no matter how much money you throw at this, it doesn’t work anymore.
For the most part, it seems that only previously established entertainers, artists, writers, and companies seem capable of maintaining a huge following. How is anything new and innovative supposed to gain a following or reach a substantial audience? Does anyone know what we are supposed to do?
To start with, perhaps we need a different definition of success. Success can no longer mean becoming huge, being in the media, instantly gaining millions of customers or followers. It doesn’t work that way anymore. These types of breakthroughs just don’t happen and, even if they could, nobody is paying attention to the traditional media anyway.
Perhaps success, these days, means living in freedom, making enough money not to worry, having a happy relationship, and making a difference in people’s lives. You don’t have to be known by millions of people. Maybe it is enough to mean a lot to a few dozen, a few hundred, or a few thousand. We may not be able to change the world, but we can start a company that creates excellent value for a few loyal customers.
Furthermore, we can celebrate what is great about this massive democratization / decentralization movement. Now we can record our own music, publish our own books, produce our own videos and films, start a global business from our bedrooms—and we can do all of this from anywhere in the world. This is exactly what I’ve been doing for the past dozen years, and I’m tired of thinking that my “real success” is somewhere in the future. I’m declaring my life a success now because I will no longer define success by that which has become essentially impossible in this new world order.
Now that we are free from the grip of centralized media, what’s left is our person-to-person connections. Rather than trying to appeal to a system that is supposed to make us successful, we can learn the art of human relationships. We can learn to shed ego, to serve one another, to join in harmonious union, to figure out ways to build trust and closeness while also inventing ways to scale our reach in this new world order.
The world is becoming decentralized, and it is time that our thinking catches-up. This isn’t good or bad; it just is. Let’s start there. Let’s be honest. Let's appreciate one another for what's great about us even if we aren't famous. We can enjoy what’s happening now and let’s create what happens next.